Saturday, 28 March 2015

Eco-schools Seychelles: Shark encounters on Aldabra

A couple of kids snorkelling with the sharks
The 10 lucky students who visited the Aldabra atoll this year experienced, for most of them, their first shark encounter! As winners of the Eco-schools competition, the students enjoyed a 5 day fun-filled trip learning about the natural habitats on Aldabra and it's exceptional biodiversity. Sharks were one of the main marine species they were taught about. Students got the chance to observe some beautiful blacktip reef sharks by snorkeling and swimming with them.
They were also given a presentation by Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) staff on Aldabra regarding the importance and role of sharks in the marine ecosystem, as well as the threats they face.

Pearl Faure's first close encounter with a shark!
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982, Aldabra is the largest raised coral atoll on Earth, possessing unique ecosystems and endangered species. Given the abundance of reef sharks found there, the trip was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness and educate the students about this ecologically important apex predator. As part of a GEF-SGP project aiming to educate children about the importance of sharks, Green Islands Foundation (GIF) gladly contributed some of the materials and information shared during the shark education program on Aldabra. 

The Eco-schools competition awards the schools/students which have been most actively involved in environmental initiatives and activities throughout the year. The prize is a once in a lifetime trip to Aldabra atoll. The Eco-Schools programme is being coordinated by the Environmental Education (EE) Unit within the Ministry of Education. It aims at promoting sustainability through environment education by engaging students and teachers to work collectively to deal with different environment issues in school and in the community.

Jessica Farabeau trying to keep up with a fast swimmer
The director of the EE unit within the Ministry of Environment, Jeanette Larue, says "sharks were one of the main attraction for the students on Aldabra. They spent almost all of their free time in the water with the sharks. Students saw three species, mostly the blacktip reef sharks but also the sicklefin lemon sharks in shallow areas, as well as some tawny nurse sharks whilst snorkeling in the lagoon".

Marcela Belle, one of the teachers who accompanied the students on the trip, described the students' first reaction, "At first most of the students were scared to go in the water with the black tips. After seeing that the sharks were harmless, one or two students slowly approached them. When the rest of the students saw this, all of them joined in. After a while they got more comfortable, and started swimming with the sharks, observing and playing with their new friends! Students counted the number of sharks every day, and each day there were between 35-60 sharks close to the shore".

Noah Jean-Louis capturing the friendly presence of a blacktip reef shark
Poster by Kelly Isnard
Feedback from the students was very positive, describing their first encounter as very fun, exciting and cool! "I would have to say that my shark encounter on Aldabra was surreal. Never would I have imagined such an apex-predator to turn out so friendly. Such an experience changes my whole perception about these creatures and it makes me want to really understand them better" said Sonam Tsultrim from Anse Boileau Secondary. After the trip, most of the students said they wanted to know more about sharks, more specifically about shark senses and adaptations, the different species, and prehistoric sharks.

GIF is happy to know that other organizations in Seychelles, like SIF, the Ministry of Environment Energy and Climate Change, and the Ministry of Education are changing the perception of sharks in children that would otherwise never have had the chance to experience of a close encounter with these magnificent animals. The information and pictures collected during the trip can now be used by GIF to show interaction between humans and sharks as it should be.
Poster by Fabiana Bertin

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